To count or not to count?
One would be hard pressed to find an individual in the fitness/nutrition industry who would argue that fat loss is a result of a net caloric deficit. It is. Done. Perhaps the simplest method of achieving this goal is to count calorie and/or macronutrient consumption. In this way, one can easily determine what of his or her diet “needs” to be altered in order to obtain the desired results. This is, at least, the most commonly utilized method, though the what of people’s diets does dramatically differ from individual to individual (i.e. high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, moderate protein, high protein, so on and so forth).
I have been doing a lot of thinking and internet scouring on the subject the last few days. Bros and many professionals I deeply respect alike, seem to believe that the only way to make progress is to track your ‘food metrics’ for lack of a better term. A quick glance at the Bodybuilding.Com forums and one would believe that there is no other way to exist.
Call me crazy and leave hate comments if you want, but I see some enormous problems with this. (Which is incredibly ironic to me because we spoke a year and a half ago, I would have said everyone needs to weigh, measure, and count their food.)
Food is more than the sum of its parts.
Counting macronutrients does not take into account micronutrient consumption. Vitamins, minerals, and all those other little essential things that keep us going? Yes, they count for your health too. Eating the same foods day in and out will get you the physique you want, and they may even be whole foods, but without that variety you will likely end up woefully deficient in some important things. A hot body is nice, but what good is it if you’re dead or feel like you got hit with a brick?
Moreover, lets say you do get a variety and manage to track both macros & micros: no two foods are created equal. The numbers you read online or on food labels? They are, at best, educated guesses. Additionally, foods all interact with our bodies differently. It is virtually impossible to determine how available all those micro/macronutrients are to you and how you will utilize them to a T. This, to me, is one of the bigger issues with counting macros. What’s the point of counting guesses?
Counting can hurt the soul.
I will concede one concept: weighing/measuring/counting is a really fabulous learning tool. For an individual who has never learned proper portion control or never seen what 4 oz of chicken looks like, it is a great way to educate. That said, I do not think it is a good tool to start an individual with full time as it is very easy to get ‘hooked’ on the numbers nor is it sustainable for many.
Some simply can not handle the tediousness of it while others are just plain lazy. They may count for a little while, but they eventually fall off the bandwagon with this attitude of “well I can’t take counting so I am just going to go back to how I ate before.”This leaves them back at square one. There has to be some kind of transition into living to make it sustainable or, better yet, teaching a sustainable lifestyle from the beginning.
People need to learn how to eat on their own, like humans. We are not dogs or robots. We are people with lives and families and jobs.
Moreover, I get emails, almost weekly, from women with poor relationships with food. I know men who are right there with them. Hell, just start reading some of the blogs around the blog-o-sphere. Poor relationships with our bodies and food is running rampant in today’s society. In more cases than not with counting, our food ends up consuming us instead of we, it.
NOTE: Of course there are many folks who thrive on counting and have done so for years without problem. They recognize when enough is enough or when counting can suck it. To you, I say, “Kudos!”
Food is so much more than ‘fuel’.
When I first read this book, I thought Pollan was an a**hole because he, very eloquently I might add, tore my lifestyle apart. I believe he called the concept Nutritionism. Now? I believe he was spot on. Hindsight is 20/20, they say.
Food is something we use to celebrate, to socialize, to bond with family members and new friends. It is cultural and beautiful. Yes, eating the right foods at the perfect times will fuel your finely tuned machine, but I believe you can be ‘fueled’ just as efficiently by simply eating real whole foods when you are hungry. We managed for thousands of years without knowing precisely what we were eating and every other animal on the planet seems to be doing just fine without that information, as well.
Of course we all overeat from time to time. However, I have found that, that restrictive counting mentality leads us to really overdo it.
Eat until you hurt, overdo it. Lose control, overdo it.
You may be able to maintain your physique because you fast for 800 hours a week or strictly control your diet when you aren’t massively bingeing… but what about learning to just eat. It’s amazing how changing your frame of mind can alter your behavior.
See THIS POST for my thoughts on how to achieve fat loss without losing your marbles. I have more thoughts on the subject when applying it to people who want to get ‘ZOMG SHREDDED’, but that is for another time.